Skip to main content

tv   Charlie Rose  WHUT  June 8, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am EDT

11:00 pm
>> charlie: welcome to the program. tonight a look at american foreign policy through thize avenuthe eyesof party beinart. >> the u optimism. when american goes through periods of enormous success when you have whole generations that have come of age that have never seen anything really in a serious way go wrong militarily, economically, ideologically. that optimism turns into hugh wrist. the wins that were crafted by earlier generationsing ideas about how, successful ideas about how america should interact with the world get taken past the breaking point goats blown into the sun. >> charlie: august wilson plays fences has received tone nominations stars denzel washington and viola davis. we talked to the director, kenny
11:01 pm
leon and the star violet davis. >> this gift was his ear. he would hear the specifics of african american culture and he could put it on paper. that was his gifts but his beauty was it was also poetry, it was poetic. if you heard steven henderson on this play and get on stage and open his mouth then it's like it has poetry and everyone can hear, their father, their uncle, their brother through that but august was he gave you the content, what's in the plays but he also, he structured it in a way that you heard the lyricism. when you understand his language it's like listening to a well-tuned instrument. >> a lot of times, especialably black women have to be strong but it's strong at the expense of vulnerability, it's strong at the expense of sexuality, it's strong at the expense of any kind of weakness whatsoever.
11:02 pm
and we know that that's not the case. i think strong men are so many different ways and i see it as my life work, you know, to kind of break down that stereotype. if there was a graveyard of stereotypes, that's one that i would like to see six feet under. >> charlie: we intended to include this evening a conversation with rene redzepi. he's head chef voted the number one restaurant in the world. also an appreciation of john wooden, the great ucla coach. we'll have both of those at a later date. tonight, peter beinart and viola davis and kenny leon, next.
11:03 pm
captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> charlie: peter beinart is here, he's a former editor of the new republican magazine, he's now political writer for the daily beast. he's caused a lively debate for an essay in the june 10th issue of the new york review of books. it is called the failure of the american jewish establishment. he is worried about the future of young american jews and their attachment to israel. he's here today because of another book, it is called "the icarus syndrome" he looks at how american presidents and their advisors have been tempted by success to overreach in war. i am pleased to have him back at this table. welcome. >> thank you. >> charlie: talk about this in a moment.
11:04 pm
first about this. the icarus syndrome is where you go too close to the sun and it's over. >> yeah. in fact, there's a father in the story, deadless. they're on an island, island of crete. he's a brilliant craftsman and he says the wings can take off of this island but the wings are fallible, they're made 0 of wax and feathers don't think they can go too far. that's the problem with the son icarus that he doesn't recognize the wings are fallible. >> charlie: america is what? >> i think the genius of america is the optimism that is one of the signature fates of the country. i think what happens sometimes is when america goes through periods of enormous periods of extraordinary success, when you have whole generations that have come of age that have never seen anything really in a serious way go wrong militarily, economically, ideologically, that optimism turns into hubris.
11:05 pm
what happens is the wings crafted by earlier generations ideas about, successful ideas about how america should interact with the world get taken past the breaking point, gets flown into the son. >> charlie: you take three examples, world war one, people like walter lippman and others, vietnam war, lyndon johnson and obviously others. and then george bush and the iraqi war. much has been made of, and you have made much of it in terms of your support for the war and how -- tell me where you went in on that and where you came out on that in terms of looking at it. >> well you know it's not self flagelation. i couldn't write very effectively. when you bright about events going on of the day you have to have some larger world view. i had one and it grew on me over the course of the 1990's. i was in college when the gulf
11:06 pm
war happened and the bosnia debate in the mid 90's, the kosovo debate. >> charlie: part of that debate is why didn't we do something earlier. >> exactly, it was a story of mill are free intervention that worked, thank goodness we did them but people who were graftful. >> charlie: the argument was made at the time that it will be a dark mark against your history, if you ignored the plight of these people. >> that's right. people on the other side said the gulf, bosnia, kosovo will be vietnam. and yet evaluate know became like the dog -- vietnam became the dog who cried wonderful. it was inspiring stories about america might and the ability to do good. that all produced the set of ideas that i had on the eve of the iraq war. >> charlie: power had purpose. >> first of all the efficacy of american military power. after vietnam, people thought do you know what, military power isn't good for very much but it turned out in the 1990's it was
11:07 pm
actually good for something. it was also the sense we could understand what was going on in other countries well enough to remedy problems there. and thirdly, it was the sense of the economic boon of the 1990's that we had a lot of resources, economic resources at our disposal. those were the experiences that shaped me on the eve of iraq. when iraq turned out to go so terribly wrong, i began to think, i can't leave the scene of the crime here intellectually because i'm not going to know how to go forward. i need to go backwards and really try to understand what happened here in order so i could start to build a new set of ideas about how i think about the war. >> charlie: when you did that, other people who supported the war in terms of how they wrote and how they argued. have you heard from them? >> sure. i have had littl lots of convers with fellows. some people still think the war was right. particularly --
11:08 pm
>> charlie: some people think it's too early to tell. >> some people think it's too early to tell. in some sense that's true but i think there's still a lot we can learn here. i didn't want to write a book about myself but i wanted to write a book about the impact of success and the dangers of success and the difficulty of trying to incorporate a more humble more tragic sensibility into the way america sees the world. >> charlie: how would you have looked at the iraqi war? what would you have said to yourself if you have the benefit of today's insight? >> i think i would have thought more about the fundamental differences between iraq and the other experiences that had shaped me, you know. the kosovo and bosnia were wars of limited risk, they were air wars, wars we never really asked the american people do you care enough about this to put large numbers of your own boys and girls at risk. the gulf war was a war in which you were stopping something from happen thing. you were not trying to build. you were not trying to create a new society on an old one.
11:09 pm
the other thing i wasn't sufficiently thinking about then was the fact that the experience we had in the late 90's when the deficits were overcome and when it seemed like money was plentiful was not, would not necessarily continue. now one could reasonably say you should have known those things at the time. that's perhaps true. >> charlie: how much of a -- how much, when you look back, it was executed so badly. >> well i guess -- >> charlie: would that not have mattered. >> what i've come to believe is one should assume wars will be executed badly, particularly wars that involve us going very far away to society we don't understand very well. happenot stopping an army bebutt toppling and you should believe it should go bad and so depressing from world war ii that you're willing to support it in the worse case scenario. >scenario.
11:10 pm
>> charlie: people who want that war should be accused of misleading us. was that a factor? >> i think what happened, this is a recurrent story in american history. when your sense of power is overwhelming, when you feel omnipotent it changes your perception of the threat. if you have a hammer then you start looking for nails and i think what happened was the willingness to create a sense of public terror like the bush administration did that sadaam hussein had biological went instances. we lived with stalin having nuclear weapons pointed at us. i think the exaggerated sense of terror was related to the fact that we had so much confidence in our military power, in the limitlessness of economic resources that we were going to go, that we could afford to exaggerate the threat because we felt we could solve it easily. >> charlie: so at a different time like today presented with the same reality would make a
11:11 pm
different decision because we did not feel omnipotent. >> absolutely. september 11 had a big part in the war in iraq but i very much believe if september 11 had happened in 1985 or 1993 or in fact we would not have invaded and toppled two governments in foreign countries within 18 months which is really historically unprecedented in american history. it was the emergence of enormous self confidence in american military, economic and ideological powers. it had as much to do with the war in iraq as did the shock of 9/11. >> charlie: i totally agree with that. part of that had to do with the success in the balkans. >> exactly. >> charlie: also the early success in afghanistan as a reaction to 9/11. >> absolutely. the war in afghanistan, if we did not -- >> charlie: ten days. >> we would never have gone to war in iraq had we not managed to topple the taliban fairly quickly in afghan. >> charlie: the third thing is i think our military people began to realize that we had
11:12 pm
such a superior fighting machine in terms of weapons, missiles, everything, ships, planes, that we could go it alone because everybody else was so far behind us they couldn't make a significant contribution. >> that's right. and also the perception that those countries had been skeptical of our past military intervention and they had been proven wrong. so they had lost some, the idea was that we didn't need to listen to them anymore. i spend a lot of time talking about the war in panama. you realize how radically different the lines were. ronald reagan was terrified about going to war. the administration said we've got to take up manuel noriega. reagan said are you crazy that's going to be a vietnam in panama. i think we didn't realize in 2003 how far we had come even from a period of 1980's when war seemed so much more frightening. >> charlie: the war was --
11:13 pm
>> reagan opinioned a war with a country military that only had 600 people. the in fact the amazing things -- i think the misunderstanding of reagan under the root of so many problems under the cold war, reagan was very cautious about sending u.s. troops into battles. in lebanon when he sent the marines there after the beirut 1983, he pulled them out very very quickly. he would never send u.s. troops to nicaragua or al sal al va dor papanama. >> charlie: i remember this story. you may know it is that when general vestee joint chiefs at the time he told him to double the force. >> that's right. he didn't want to leave any margin of errors, exactly the opposite of iraq. also reagan's final words in the oval office. he used direct military force actually much less than all of his successors. bush one, clinton and of course bush two. but still his final words in the oval office were i should never have sent those marines to
11:14 pm
beirut. >> charlie: and he withdrew them in the middle of the night. >> he withdrew them very fast. >> charlie: within 24 hours. >> reagan indemnify something about cut -- knew something about yuting losses. >> charlie: tell me what you know about world war i. >> it's the danger of the analogy between what happens inside the united states and the rest of the world. the story of world war i is a group of progressive intellectuals and leaders who had had great success domestically e sketchil sketch y making american governs of law and region not a clash of power. they believe they could replicate that to some degree around the world. i think what they didn't realize was international politics, world politics which is in our case, there's no world government will always be fundamentally different in domestic politics. will never be able to create a world of parliament and courts as we can do at home. and i think that's what the intellectuals of the 30's and
11:15 pm
40's who responded to wilson and do we and people like reinhart leiber and george kennan understood. >> charlie: and then vietnam. >> vietnam is really the story of the product of the straw ordinary 20-year boom in the information, the extraordinary success of the idea of containment. containment under kennan with a limited doctrine. we're going to build up western you're, only western europe to prevent it from communist subvergence. kennan hated the idea of grand global doctrine. that's not what containment was at all. the specific solution to a specific problem at a specific moment in time. but it worked so well again it's like icarus with the wings becoming so entranced by the wings that he doesn't realize that they are fallible. that it got taken by the mid 1960's to a global doctrine where we would stop any communist movement from taking power in any new country around the world. it moves from a modest doctrine,
11:16 pm
a response in fact to the hubris of wilson to himself. >> charlie: the subtitle is history of american hubris. when the johnson hubris was the hubris of -- >> yes. it was the belief that you were continually reenacting the story of 1938. guys like johnson were weird in 1938. if only we had stood up to hitler then all the terrible things would not have happened. what they didn't realize was the search for hitlers in obscure pockets on the third world was not enacting what happened at munich, it was a vasion hubrissistic expansion of those ideas. >> charlie: lyndon johnson's personal experience led him to say i'm not going to be the first american president to lose a war. >> that's righted. it was 1938. it was also mccarthyism. the whole generation of the foreign policy establish many was terrified about what happened to mccarthy. they saw people politically
11:17 pm
destroyed because they were seen as not tough enough in that his tear why you of the earlier 9 yof/hysteria. you can never be too tough. which is the lesson many many people had learned by 2003 who had seen the gulf war. politically the lesson is you can never go roger by being too hawkish. in fact reagan knew that wasn't the case. he ran for re-election in 1984 didn't want to look like a war monger. >> charlie: it was the dr. strange love thing with reagan too. >> that's right. reagan did not think being annal tra hawk -- reagan recognized that in fact the american people were more complicated than that. >> charlie: tell me how you've grown to change if you have your observation of ronald reagan. >> i was relatively a kid and
11:18 pm
ronald reagan if you were a liberal like i was was the demon. but what i realized about reagan was first of all reagan was a radical all miss. hmiss -- optimist. he was a strange conservatives in general have a dark view of human nature to believe the world doesn't change very much for the better. reagan was completely the opposite. the stories about reagan was that in the darkest of moments you would always find the silver lining. >> charlie: he could tell the story about the donkey in the backyard. >> he could never watch sad movies and hated going to funerals. in a way that was actually his genius because the cold war had been going on for so long that everyone particularly conservatives thought that this was the way of the world. it would never change. in his own government, reagan really believed that the things, as thomas paine said, he was not a conservative he said we have the power to begin the world again. that's really what america needed, a president like that when gorbachev came into power. >> charlie: where is the opt
11:19 pm
misoptimism coming back to geore bush. in term of american history of american hubris george bush's hubris was the hubris of dominance. >> yes. the problem was that it was the overlearning of the lesson in 1989 just as the vietnam generation overlearned the lesson of munich in 1938. >> 89 is when the soviet empire collapsed. >> yes. what reagan showed was that powerful enormous dramatic inspiring democratic change is possible that the world can change for the good very quickly but reagan didn't try to do that through the barrel of a gun. that's the crucial thing to understand. he negotiated an end to the cold war by forming a relationship with gorbachev by wooing gorbachev. he believed that you could usher in your own 1989 in the middle east through military invasion. in that way he overlearned the lesson. that's where the hubris came in. >> charlie: the interesting thing too about all of that and today is president obama in the
11:20 pm
national security director that was recently issued, it is the talking about the combination of military strength and economic strength. >> yes. >> charlie: that if in fact you lose the economic foundation, no nation has ever. >> that's right. >> charlie: maintained its military place. >> and what i think obama needs to do is to recast the story of america's rise to power more than an economic story. what's happened is we have come to see the cold war as a kind of military victory. i think what obama needs to do is first to tell the story of world war two differently. we did not win world war ii because our soldiers were braver or our generals were smarter we with won it because we were simply economically outproducing the nazis and the japanese so dramatically. the cold war was not won because it was a contest of ideological systems. it was a question about whether democratic capitalism could be more dynamic and humane and
11:21 pm
stable than the economy. >> charlie: the imperative for president obama. >> the imperative is to recognize that military power is not backed by economic power. wars that lead us further and further into debt do not actually make us stronger, they make us weaker. >> charlie: suppose the president calls you to the oval office and said define america's role today what would you say and are what are the rules of engagement for us. >> i think america's role in the world is to first of all make sure that ware a strong enough country domestically that we have the capacity to compete with a whole series of rising powers and also that we have the capacity to make our model attractive. the power of the america by and large has been the power of the attractiveness of our economic and political model. if that model is that as attractive and it's taken a huge hit as a result of the final crises, it's not as attractive, then the future for liberal democracy around the world is not a bright one.
11:22 pm
>> charlie: i talked to john kerry last night about this very subject because he had a commitment over the weekend. the idea of how, what forces are shaping the world, clearly economic power is shaping the world today and looking to the kind of multiple polarity we wail have. he thinks the incumben bun see n the american mallity is that. the relationship between the united states and the world has by definition changed because of icarus' famous phrase it's the rise of the rest. >> yes. >> charlie: therefore we have to look at what we can do differently and what we can do is form relationships, shared goals. it's a true necessity to approach multiplearity in smart way. >> when you think of franklin
11:23 pm
ruse velts greatest achievements is he wanted china on the security council of the un. china was incredibly weak at that time. why do you want china. roosevelt saw that china one the day would be a great power. he wanted in the tent not out of the tent. that's one of yolk's challenge. one of the things yolk ha obamae moving from the g-8 to the g20. he took the opportunity of the -- >> charlie: being the industrialized world. >> the old order not the countries with the rising economic power. the challenge of creating institutions that are flexible enough to respond to the new dynamics of power that we emerge seems to me is one of the signature challenges of this administration. >> charlie: tell me about this. new york review books peter beinart looking at the failure of the american jewish establishment. who is that and how did they fail. >> i think what they had failed is, they failed in nurturing a liberal amongst young american
11:24 pm
jews. by zionism they loved israel not because it's a jewish state but a dic liberal democratic jewish state. zionism in general is in collapse particularly amongst secular younger american jews and most younger american jews are relatively secular. i think one reason is no one has nurtured for them a space, an identity in which you can say i'm an zion es. if you are forced to choose between free expression and human rights and no criticism of israel on the other, what we're finding tragically is a lot of these young jews are choosing liberalism over zionism because they haven't been told the two can exist. >> charlie: is there a change nature of the relationship that is coming from a new administrations and looking at a new world. does the administration not young jews but does its
11:25 pm
administration have to struggle to figure out how it can define a relationship that represents a forward way of looking at both israel's interest and american interest? >> yes. and i think what the obama administration is rightly understood is that the eight years of george w. bush in which the united states essentially gave israel a blank check on everything. first of all that was not the history of the u.s.-israel relationship. go back to what reagan said is much harsher than anything barack obama said. it was not good for israel. what is good for israel seems to me to be a good friend is for us to be a supporter but tell israel when we think they're doing something that's self defeating. sadly the israeli government particularly this one is doing some self defeating thing. >> charlie: how do you put in the context what happened and the gaza blockade. >> it's the blockade itself
11:26 pm
forced israel into a corner. it's not that there's a problem with trying to prevent missile components going into gaza but when you create a blockade such that 90% of the people in gaza cannot, don't have drinkingable water, that students in gaza can't go to the west bank to study. much of the agriculture land in gaza is off limits to gaza farmers. the economy collapses. that's not in israel's that's not in the best jewish ethical tradition and working. >> charlie: is it in the interest of israel and the united states to say we're going to champion the people of gaza as much as anybody else in the world. we're not going to leave it to hamas, we're not going to leave it to the rest of the arab world, we are going to be there in terms of using whatever might that we have to make a difference in the lives of those people and we're not worried, we're not worried that somehow if we do that we'll simply going to build up whatever, whatever advantage that might give to hamas or whatever benefit hamas
11:27 pm
might derive from it. >> trying to make people's life miserable so they will turn against a bad set of meters and hamas is a very bad set of guides does not work. in fact the terrifying thing that's going on in gaza right now is do you know who is gaining in gaza is people more extreme than hamas. it is al-qaeda affiliates that are actually, hamas is actually afraid of the al-qaeda look alike groups that are gaining in gaza. the culture being created in gaza by the blockade and hamas rule is not leading people to more moderate alternatives. i really think israel needs to look at its policy and look at more creative political answers. >> charlie: and what will present them to do it or encourage them to do it? >> i think partly it is pressure from the obama administration is having an impact but i also think this crises hopefully is going to create a new debate within israel. israelis are angry and upset about the rejectionism they feel in much of the arab world.
11:28 pm
they're also disturbing demographic trends in israel, the rise of orthodox population which is very liberal but israelis have to think about whether the reliance always on military force has in fact made them more secure. >> charlie: peter beinart's book is called "the icarus syndrome the history of american hubris" this was in the book 2010 the failure of the american jewish establishment. read more there. thanks for coming. >> thank you. >> charlie: great to see you. fences by the late august wilson first opened on broadway on march 26, 198 7. the pulitzer winning story tells about the baseball player into 1950's pittsburgh. the revival of the play starring denzel washington and viola davis returns to washington for a 13-week run.
11:29 pm
>> you take and don't even know nobody's giving. >> you say i take and don't give, you say i take and don't give. dii gave you everything i got. don't you tell that lie on me. don't tell me about no taking. all right, see. that's right too. you stay away. you are on a full count. that's strike two. don't you strike out. >> charlie: the current production has been nominated for 10 tony awards the most ever for a play revival. joining me now viola davis nominated as best lead actress for her role and kenny leon the play's director nominated as best director, i am pleased to have both of them at this table. welcome. >> thank you.
11:30 pm
>> it's great to be here. >> it's great. >> charlie: my pleasure. so what brings you back and back and back to august wilson? >> what brings me back and back is it's my voice, it's my life, it's my people, you know. i'm a theatre geek. i went to julliard, undergraduate theatre degree and you know i always embrace the writers arthur miller, shake mirrors and the checkoff and always felt like a square peg fitting into a round hole. this is a fit for me. these roles are familiar. and do you know what, every role that i ever played on broadway, this is my third august wilson show on broadway, have come to me at the perfect time in my life. >> charlie: why does this come at the perfect time in your life? >> well she's 43, i'm 44. i understand mid life. i understand marriage, i understand commitment, you know.
11:31 pm
rose is to a huge extent represents the essence of who i am. she is familiar. and it's always an opportunity for me to kind of, it's my voice. >> charlie: did you talk to august about it? >> no. i never talked to august about it. i think that you know that's part of his legacy, part of his legacy is that he is a grill in terms of blacks and history. he is the keeper of history for us. the keeper of history not just in terms of even historically. the keeper of history even in terms of how we relate it to each other. in terms of every time period. what our relationships were like, our marriages, our friendships, our relationships with our sons and daughters that he chronically, he's a great
11:32 pm
chronicle of all of that. and so there's no talking about it. he did it. >> charlie: he died when? >> 2005, october 2nd, 2005. >> charlie: how well did you know him. >> well i knew him probably as well as anybody the thing abouty of us can claim to have a piece of august but i knew him in the relationship of directing his last two broadway plays and i was working on the 10th play with him when he was diagnosed with the inoperable liver cancer. and that was an important time for me as an artist and as parting with him he wanted to make sure that he finished the 10th play because there's no other writer in american history that has finished ten plays quite like that. and often times august gets marginalized as an african
11:33 pm
american writer but he prided himself on being in that army of writers with o'neill and miller, shakespeare. his work stands up to the test. it's just as great as that work, you know. so to be a part of helping him finish those ten plays was an extraordinary moment in my life. and then after he passed away, to work at the kennedy center, to do all ten plays and to work with 42 actors from around the country, it was amazing. but to be on broadway and the first revival of what is his probably his most accessible play to be on broadway with this particular play with viola davis who i think is an american treasure and for her to stand on stage with denzel washington and the rest of that cast and to stand on 48th street every night and then look down 48th street and see a line going down the street around circumstancet sixe
11:34 pm
people with tickets for this play look like america, all races, all ages to see them in line going in to see an august wilson play couldn't be more proud. >> charlie: what was his gift as a playwright. >> his gift was his ear. he would hear the specifics of the african american culture and he could put it on paper. that was his gift but his beauty was that it was also poetry. he was poetic. his words would sing. if you hear steven henderson on this play to open his mouth to speak these lines then it's like he has poetry. everyone can hear his father, uncle and brother. but august gave you the content what's in the plays but he also, he structured in a way that you heard the lyricism, you heard the musicality. when you get eight everything seven actors on stage when you understand the musicality of his language is like listening to a well-tuned instrument. >> charlie: does this make it easier or harder because of the
11:35 pm
spant to do justice to the work. >> it's easier. it's always easier working with a great actor than a bad actor. when you're working with a great writer all you have to do is trust the language, that's it and it will carry you where you need to go emotionally as an actor. the greatest example is the scene in act ii scene i but he was a great poet but he also had the uncanny ability to speak the truth. there's not one person in that audience man or woman who cannot relate to every character in that play and what they're going through emotionally. that doesn't always happen in the theatre. sometimes we leave the theatre and we're intellectually stimulated but we're not very often moved. you're only moved when you recognize yourself, a part of your life just unfolding on that stage. and that's why i don't care
11:36 pm
what, who the actor is, that's why we do what we do. >> charlie: what's your character's relationship to troy. >> having been married to him for 18 years. i've committed myself to a marriage. i am absolutely committed to it so i understand that the moment that i took those vows that i sort of died to myself. >> i've been standing in the same place for 18 years. >> well i've been standing with you. that's how i feel about you troy. 18 years of my life has been standing in the same spot as you. don't you think i wanted other things. do you think i have reason and hope. what about my life? what about me? >> i am the perfect example of a 1950's housewife that my dreams, my goals were not important, as
11:37 pm
important as the good of the relationship. and that's what you see transpire on this stage, a woman who is just in the marriage and not kind of just driven by her own individual needs. >> charlie: marriage today you think is less that. >> i absolutely think that it's less that. i do think that that is the whole idea of a marriage overall but i think that today that we also understand that the individual needs to be fulfilled in order for the marriage to be fulfilling. >> charlie: did you have to come up with a kind of back story for this relationship. >> oh gosh, absolutely. and it was ever changing because august created a very complicated relationship. i mean, the relationship is absolutely different from in the second act than it is in the first act. in the first act you see something very sexy and joyful
11:38 pm
and maybe a little, maybe a lot of anger, you know, underlying anger in it just like any marriage, you know. and then in the second act it just totally unfolds. >> charlie: but you have said or i think you have said or made a comment about needing to be more sexual in the role. >> yes. i do believe that because i think every time i look at a role, i always think with a whae the traps and i think the traps is to play miserable and down trodden is to play the second act and the first act. and that's the mistake because first of all there is no element of surprise. and also, you miss all the joy, you miss the humor, you miss her raid youngradiant. i didn't want to miss that
11:39 pm
because it is my job as an actor to create a human being, not to play an emotion. and it also makes actually seen one act two easier to play. >> charlie: has acting brought you what you wanted it to be for you. >> it's everything i thought it would be because i just think it's so fulfilling and healing to be able to transform into all these characters, and to really entertain people. that has been a joy to me because i didn't always think i could do it. or be good at it. that is a joy and to be able to work and make a living. all of that has been a joy. the part that's been maybe not as fulfilling as i didn't understand total commitment. it is a buys about deprivation and so any time you have a job you feel like you got to ride it
11:40 pm
out. >> charlie: you deprive yourself of what? >> knowing the business of department race meaning there's probably only one piece of cheese for a room of 50,000. >> charlie: sure. in other words everybody wants it. >> it is a hungary desperate profession. >> charlie: 5% of actors are working. >> 95% are unemployed in a given time. maybe 1% make $50,000 or more in the business. so you believe that when it starts working for you, you have to ride it out. but the problem with that is you ride it out at the expense of your life and you don't figure that your life is as important as your work as an actor. >> charlie: you dent think your life is as -- you don't think your life is as important as your work. >> no. every actor starts off with that telling a little half truth. because what it is, it's a dream. you can't replace a dream. you can replace a job, you can't replace a dream.
11:41 pm
and a dream requires a lot of passion and a lot of focus and it's blind focus. it's blind focus at the expense of everything else until you hit the wall and realize especially mid life. your life encompasses a lot more than just your work and that's been the part that's been maybe a little bit surprising. >> charlie: so the parts have been surprising is to realize that there's light beyond the work. >> yes, absolutely. >> charlie: because you are so focused on making -- >> absolutely. i was so focused on it and i thought to myself i don't need to be, yo married, you know. i can miss some important events but the show must go on, got to get to the job, you know. >> charlie: i'm one of the lucky ones to have an opportunity to be what i want to be, to fulfill my dream. >> absolutely. and i can't let anything else stand in the way. and then you realize at a certain point that other things happen in your life that oh man. >> charlie: she's telling the
11:42 pm
truth isn't she. >> wow, this is interesting to listen to. >> charlie: it is, this is the play. >> now i'm looking at my life. >> charlie: no, it's true. i believe it's true and you say it with such passion you know it's true. >> absolutely. >> charlie: you don't believe her. >> you know i mean i'm just challenged by viola a little bit because i watch her as a director on stage and clearly there's no way she could bring what she brings on stage with that woman and the different women she's played without having time to look at life and experience life because she can only bring what she has experienced on stage. so she's been spending sometime watching life and observing people and understanding relationships and understanding men or she's found no secret way of doing that but she is one of the most amazing tale edge talee seen do that. she mentioned entertainment, the first part of the word entertainment is enter and
11:43 pm
that's one of the thing about fences there's a door for every human being to enter that play to see a part of their lives. if you have a brother an uncle, if you have a mother, a husband or a friend there's a way to step into that play and life and cry. >> let the boy have $10. >> what the hell are you looking at? i ain't got no $10. you know what i do with my money. give him $10 if you want him to have it. >> i will just as soon as you turn it loose. >> there it is. $76 poit.42. >> you better stop telling that lie. you're lying. >> look i got to run, i'll see you all later. >> wait a minute, you're going to say thanks rose and you're not going to look and see where she got that $10 from. >> i know she got it from you. i'll give it back to you. >> after that $10 you'll be owing me 30 more. >> i'll see you. >> i don't know why that boy
11:44 pm
doesn't get a decent job and take care of that woman she's got. >> the boy's still young. >> the boy is 34 years old. >> let's not get -- >> i've got to be going. lieu seal is going to be waiting. you see this. >> i love this woman so much it hurts. i love her so much i run out of ways of loving her so i've got to go back to basics. >> so every night you see people who are different from each other sitting in exto each other but partake -- next to each other but partake in the festivities and you can hear crying and sometimes they talk back a little too much but it's an amazing event happening there because of what those actors are putting on that stage. >stage. >> charlie: what was your route to theatre. >> i started out as an actor. [laughter] >> when you're an actor, i don't your insides is an art and it's an amazing challenging thing and
11:45 pm
you do give a lot of yourself. as a director you're outside of the art and i found out that directing gave me personally nor joy because i could watch the actors move, grow, shape. i could be a part of helping shape their performance and i love having a relationship with the designers and looking at the overall concepts. i'm forever impressed with an actor that does this job and goes to the next job and goes to the next job. and august wilson has given jobs to hundreds and hundreds of actors without august wilson and america for the last 25 years, many actors would not be working today. he's had what nine plays on broadway but all these plays have also visited every pocket of our country, all the regional theatres in georgia and california and massachusetts, those plays that happened there. then you had actors, lawrence fishburn, angela bassate, actors who cut their teeth on these plays but now who are doing film and television, you know. so without august, i think we
11:46 pm
would have a huge hole in our soul. >> charlie: wt do you owe him? >> i owe august, wow, a lot of respect. i think he taught me especially in those last few months of his life where we were sitting and talking about the last play. he taught me about being an artist in america, what to expect of myself and specifically as an african american artist. did i want to spend my time arguing about whether or not there was racism in america or if i wanted to do something about racism. and like august, i took that ladder, i wanted to do something about it so you do something about it by doing the work, by getting his play on broadway by hiring actors, by demanding respect august used to always way you came here on the bottom of a spaceship or if you came into this country seeking political freedom. however you got here, you are owed all those promise and
11:47 pm
rights of that which -- privileges and rights of that which is american and his plays demonstrate that. he started out writing about specific african american stories but they have universal appeal. so because he wrote the specifics we're all able to find the human in all of us. >> charlie: why is this the most accessible of his plays. >> because it's about relationships. i think husband and wife, it's father son, it's father-step son, his best friend. it explores all these various relationships that regardless of your raises or your culture, you have to have one. you have to have a mother and father, brother and sister and also because he has a great balance of comedy and drama. i never laughed so much at a drama in all my life. there's soil funny things and they're -- so many funny things and they are funny because i cn identify with it. >> charlie: and recognize it. >> who the hell said i got to like you. what law is there to say i got to like you. you want to stand up in my face
11:48 pm
and answer a damn question like that. come here when i'm talking to you. straighten up. i asked you a question. what law is there saying i got to like you. >> none. >> well all right then. don't you eat every day. answer me when i talk to you. don't you eat every day. >> yes. >> as long as you're on my house you put a sir on the end of it. >> yes, sir. >> you got a roof over your head. >> yes, sir. >> you got clothes on your back. >> yes, sir. >> why do you think it is. >> because of you. >> of course i know it's because of me but why do you think that is. >> because you like me. >> i go out of here every morning, work my butt, putting up with them crackers every day because i like you. you about the biggest fool i ever saw. it's my job. it's my responsibility, you understand that. a man's supposed to take care of his family.
11:49 pm
you live in my house sweep your behind on my clothes, if till your belly with my food because your my son, you're my flesh and blood. not because i like you because it's my duty to take care of you. i owe a responsibility to you. let's get this straight right here but we get along further. i ain't got to like you. mr. ranld don't give me my money until payday because he likes me he gives it to me because he owes me. i give you your life. me and your momma worked that out between us and liking your plaque as. don't you cry and worry about whether somebody likes you or not you best be making sure they doing right by you. do you understand what i'm saying. >> yes, sir. >> get the hell out of my face. >> charlie: now, have you worked with denzel before. >> yes. >> charlie: exactly. and so how is it now, he was your director and now he's your costar. >> yeah. you know, it's been a very natural fit. we just kind of clicked.
11:50 pm
>> charlie: fell in, right. >> i don't know how that happens. every once in a while that just happens. and other times you just kind of have to make it happen. but i just think it's the kind of person he is. he's just very open. he doesn't come into any space with a lot of baggage. that helps. >> charlie: indeed. was it hard to get him to come. >> absolutely not. in fact, he was talking about the project first and then he and i met and from the very beginning i knew he was a giver and not a taker. and then the both of them in a room together, they're both are givers and they both are great film actors but they're also just inkreeb perfect on the stage -- incredibly perfect on the stage. i just love working with actors on that. from the first day of rehearsals we have a circle, sometimes we say a prayer and sometimes we sing a song.
11:51 pm
i've been doing that my whole career. on the second day after i did it the first day the second day denzel says i got the prayer, i got this. i knew from that moment that we're going to be a tightly knit group, you know. viola says a prayer the next day. but they came every day and they put 100% of themselves on the stage. and as a director can't ask for much more. >> charlie: is this notion of wanting to play parts where it's not defined as a person of color. >> absolutely. because what you want to play as an actor is duality and complexity. i'm a black woman who grew up in central falls rhode island. i'm shy, i probably was 160 pounds, 1 70 pounds growing up as teenager but i wasn't rounded serious all the time, kind of shy, kind of quirky. i never seen me in stories. i never see this black girl.
11:52 pm
and you know, sometimes even when i walk into a room, people just kind of can't mar marry the plaque with all the kind of -- the black with all the kind of character traits in peachment you can't be black and quirky and black and from central falls, rode island. i long for the day that's not the case. i long for the deed we can just be. -- day that we can just be. i think that's the legacy august wilson left that african american life shoul has not bece inclusive. the people who come to the theatre there's no separation between the black experience and their experience. what you get is a human experience. it's one of the reasons why i chose not to play rose down trodden. there's a tendency to play black women down trodden, way down by life, miserable, you know. and the radiance, the grace, you know, the humor, the sexuality, all though thing those things at
11:53 pm
of times especially on black women who have to be strong. but it's strong at the expense of vulnerability. it's strong at the expense of visiosexuality it's strong in weakness. we know that's not the case. strong men have manifested it sell in so many different ways and i see it as my life work, you know, to kind of break down that stereotype. in there was a grai graveyard of stereotypes that's one i would like to be six feet under. >> charlie: you knew she had all this in her didn't you. >> oh, absolutely, absolutely. there's nothing she can't do. she's a complex actress and a complex person and that's a beautiful thing. >> charlie: if i was a director, i would listen to her, i would just say i want to find a piece of work. i want to write it or find it that will simply be an expression of what's clearly her
11:54 pm
life force. yes? >> i think that will probably be about 20 volumes of work. >> charlie: did i read somewhere that you when you were six years old saw the, what was it, the autobiography of misjane pitman, cicely tyson. >> yes, i did. >> charlie: and said to yourself. >> that's what i wanted to do. >> charlie: isn't that interesting at six. >> cicely tyson came to see fences yesterday and i can't tell you what i felt to just help her out of her car and lead her into the theatre and then stand back stage when she, after she sat there and watched the show and for her to tell me what that play meant for her, what she got out of it. she said she got the overflow. the actors put all their energy and their spirits but as an audience member she got the overflow. and that was a joyous beautiful thing. >> thank you about what's great about the work -- talk about
11:55 pm
what's great about the work, that's great growing up in such abject poverty and such dysfunction and to witness that performance and say that's what i want to do and now here i am at this time in my life, and systolsistand systol cicely tysy work. >> charlie: good luck and also in the movie you will make. >> thank you, i'll accept that. >> charlie: we'll reconvene right here at this table. >> yes. >> thank you very much. >> charlie: it's a pressure. thank you. "
11:56 pm
captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org
11:57 pm
11:58 pm
11:59 pm